Photo credit: Radio Marneuli
Author: Aidan Iusif
Three years ago, an Azerbaijani company won a bid placed by the United Water Supply Company of Georgia. The government has given Akelik Group three years and $ 55.9 million to build the Marneuli water supply and water networks in Bolnisi.
The company had to complete the works in Kvemo Kartli by the end of March. Today, neither Marneuli has permanent water supply, nor Bolnisi has a well-arranged water network. The workers employed by the company could not benefit from this project. It has been several months now that these people have not received their salaries.
The company operates with the same practice in Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan as in Georgia. The World Bank has also imposed sanctions on Akelik for falsifying documents.
On March 26, 2021, the employees gathered for the fourth time at the Marneuli City Hall and demanded their salaries for three months (December-February). The Majority MP of Marneuli and Gardabani, Zaur Dargali met with the employees of the company. Speaking live on Radio Marneuli, he noted that salary delays are a serious problem for workers.
Adilkhan Jalilov lives in Marneuli and works as a driver for “Akelik”. “We held a rally in November and they paid us that month’s salary. December, January, and February are omitted again. Because of this, 80% of employees did not show up for work in March. We have no other income, this is the only job we hope for and that is how they treat us. We have ill people; we have to buy medicines. We have taxes, everything is due,” Jalilov told us.
Kamran Kerimov works as a plumber at Akelik and tells us that the company almost always delays salaries.
“We are tired of rallies every month. Now we are not paid at all. Every week, they promise us to transfer the money. There are about 300 people in this situation. 70-80 percent of the work within the project is completed, employees are not paid, who should complete the rest of the work? “We have no other income and it is a pandemic now,” Kamran Kerimov told us.
On March 29, locals gathered in front of the Akelik office again to demand a salary. Here they met with the management of the company and MP Zaur Dargal. Employees were promised that salaries would be paid by April 13th. The promise is still unfulfilled.
In addition to employees’ salaries, Akelik owes money to a local company. Arzu Kazimov is the owner of Armu Group Ltd. and says that he has not been able to receive the amount of material sold to Akelik for months.
I sold construction materials to Akelik. They owe me more than 23 thousand GEL. We are exhausted with these Azerbaijani companies. They think that everything in Georgia is solved by bribes, as in Azerbaijan. I have not been able to receive the payment for the goods from this company for 6-7 months, ” Arzu Kazimov explained.
The United Water Supply Company borrowed money from the Asian Development Bank for Akelik to install water systems. Consequently, we wondered if they had information about delayed payments for workers. The letter received from the company confirms that the reason for the delay in the works was the protest caused by the non-payment of salaries, due to which the supervisory company sent several warning letters.
Akelik employees say they have been on strike for a month.
On April 19, Ilia Begiashvili, First Deputy Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure, and Giga Mandaria, Director of the United Water Supply Company, met with the heads of Akelik Group. They asked the representatives of the construction company to pay the employees and submit a specific plan schedule for the completion of the works.
A statement from the Ministry says that the management of Akelik Group had promised to repay the salary arrears in the coming days and to present a 12-month plan schedule by the end of the week, detailing the terms and conditions of the project completion.
What are the activities of “Akelik” in Kvemo Kartli?
The project covered the construction of pumping stations and reservoirs, arrangement of main pipes and internal water networks, replacement of worn-out pipes with the new ones, as well as arrangement of sewerage collector and construction of water pumping station. Upon completion of the project, up to 35,200 residents of the villages of Marneuli and Marneuli Municipality will have quality and stable water supply.
From a letter sent to iFact by the United Water Supply Company of Georgia, it appears that the company has completed the following works to date:
- 85 percent of the construction works of the reservoir in the village of Jandara;
- 45 percent of the Marneuli Reservoir;
- 82 percent of the Kolagiri pumping station;
- 54 percent of the water distribution network;
- 40 percent of the water network.
The United Water Supply Company believes that the project was delayed due to problems caused by covid-19 and corrections made to the project and now they are discussing an extension.
The Past of Akelik
Open Joint Stock Company Alke Insaat Sanaye ve Ticaret was established in Georgia in 2016. In January 2019, Akelik Group Georgia Ltd was registered. Togo Uchaidze, a lawyer of Akelik Group, is the director and owner of LLC. According to the Public Service Bureau webpage, in 2002-2005, Uchaidze was the Deputy Head of the Main Forensic Division at the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
A case has been filed against a company in Azerbaijan under Article 213, Part 3 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan. This article deals with the non-payment of taxes. According to the Ministry of Taxes of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the company has a tax debt of more than 5 million manats.
According to the Azerbaijani media, Akelik follows the same way in Azerbaijan. In 2019, Azerbaijani media released videos of Sarguli Musaeva, saying that the company had hired four members of her family without a labor contract for two years, leading the State Labor Inspectorate of Azerbaijan to fine the company. Sarguli Musaeva also released an audio recording in which a company employee pays 1,000 manats from his wife’s salary and makes him write a letter to the Labor Inspectorate to drop a complaint against the company.
According to the Azerbaijani media, Akelik is the main partner of the Azerbaijani water supply company AzerSu and often wins its bids.
Ramazan Bicher, a Turkish citizen, was a topographer of “Akelik” in Azerbaijan in 2013-2018. He released a video, saying that Akelik had misappropriated large sums of money while implementing various projects in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijani media also writes that “Akelik” does not pay salaries to employees in its own country. Azerbaijani media covered the news that Akelik employees were suing the company over salaries. The director of the company, Suleiman Babaev, wrote to them personally and tried to silence them with threats.
In April 2018, Imran Gurbanov tried to burn himself in front of Akelik’s office. As Ramazan Bicher says in the video, Gurbanov was an employee of the company and demanded payment of his salary. The director of the company told him “Go and do whatever you want to do, even if you kill yourself, we cannot pay you.”
The company “Akelik” has a similar story in Kyrgyzstan. In 2017-2020, they were constructing a 33 km long road in the Batken region. In 2018, RFE / RL’s Kyrgyz bureau reported that about 40 workers had gone on strike over their salaries.
In March 2019, the World Bank imposed sanctions on Akelik Group for forgery of documents. According to the decision of the World Bank Sanctions Board, in 2016 Akelik Group was a subcontractor in a road construction project in Ukraine and issued a false registration certificate for 48 vehicles.